After the recent announcement that the MotoGP class is to allow the use of production-based engines from 2012, the name on everybody's lips was WCM. After all, the team, run by Peter Clifford and Bob MacLean, had built exactly that bike back in 2003, to compete in the MotoGP class. That project ended badly, after a series of disqualifications on technical grounds saw the bike pulled from the grid due precisely to the fact that it was based on production parts. The legal battles over those disqualifications were taken all the way to the International Court of Arbitration in Sport, where WCM lost the case on the matter of how the castings were made.
Here at MotoMatters.com, we have been fascinated by this project for several years now, as it seemed to point the way to a radically different approach to a MotoGP project. With the imminent return of production-based engines - at least for privateer teams - the WCM project seems positively visionary. We tracked down Peter Clifford at the IRTA tests earlier this year, to ask him about the history of the WCM project, and to get his thoughts on racing. In the first of this two-part interview, Clifford talks about the genesis of the project, and the design concepts used to create it. Part two will be online tomorrow.
MotoMatters: The WCM project, when did it start, how did it start?
Peter Clifford: Well in 2002, end of 2002, Yamaha said that they weren't going to make enough M1s for everybody and we were going to be unlucky. At the same time, Red Bull decided that they were no longer going to continue either, so we were left with no sponsor and no machinery. It was a question of either basically stay home or go racing and my business partner Bob McLean and I decided that we wanted to go racing. Carmelo Ezpeleta said, "Look, Peter, you have to turn up with something, anything, because it's all going to get better, I'm going to get the Japanese to produce more motorcycles for everybody, so you've just got to survive through 2003 with whatever you can muster".
So I started investigating what was possible equipment-wise and there was not a lot available, there were no factory bikes available, there just weren't, they weren't making enough. So I spoke to my old friends at Harris Performance Products and they said look we can produce a rolling chassis for you but in the short time available, we are talking October, November …
MM: You had basically 4 months to build an engine
PC: Yes. Harris said we should take a look at the R1 Yamaha because they had been doing all the chassis work for Rob Mac's team [in British Superbikes], and if they were going to build it in the time available they had to basically build something they knew. You can't go out and start from scratch, you know, create something in the short time available, that was fundamentally fairly obvious to us.
MM: So basically you used the R1 engine more as a shape than anything else?
PC: That's right, the most important thing was it was a shape. Right from the start we intended to make our own engine, but that was also a question of time. Almost from the very start, there was almost nothing left of the R1 lump. Certainly everything in the crankshaft went, all the gear box ratios, and then Hewland built us a completely new gearbox; we had a dry clutch; we had a crankshaft, con rods, pistons, valves; everything was new. About the only things left were the castings and the oil filter.
At the same time I started work on a new crankcase design and a guy called Coen Baijens started work on a four-valve cylinder head, but of course there was no way that we could produce that in time for the first race. We turned up at the first race with all the internals new and everything very much a prototype, with a different bore and stroke, but with the same castings - much modified castings, but they had started life as Yamaha parts. And then of course, you know, someone intervened and decided that this wasn't kosher.
MM: Was it the Flamminis [the brothers who run the production-based World Superbike series]? Because you were disqualified by the FIM inspectors.
PC: I don't know. There was not a single objection within the ranks of MotoGP or Dorna or the MotoGP teams. In fact we had full support from all the other MotoGP teams. To the extent that teams like Kenny Roberts said that's exactly what they should have done, and to the extent we would get help with bits from up and down the pit lane. Everybody wanted to see us there and were very happy with what we were doing. But the FIM weren't. We had the support of Dorna who carried on paying the minimum start money as long as we turned up even though we were prevented from racing.
So then we started to protest, we legally objected to the fact the FIM said that we were illegal. The rule book was so muddy that we thought our bike was a prototype and therefore should be allowed. And we fought the FIM, and of course they didn't agree, and we ended up the European Court (The Court For Arbitration In Sport) in Geneva and they agreed with the FIM. So eventually we lost and Dorna said we've cut you as much slack as we can, and of course according to our contract we have to turn up, you now have to turn up with a legal motorcycle, you've lost the final case.
We were still a month away from having our own castings, so we summoned up our old 500s, our ROC Yamahas which we raced prior to the factory Yamaha days. One was in my place in New Zealand and one was at Bob's place at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and we mixed them up with a Sabre Sport ROC 500 and produced a couple of bikes by mixing and matching all the bits, which the guys ran at Donington, Sachsenring and Brno.
Then, on the Monday after Brno we got the first new engines with the my crankcase design and Coen's cylinder head, with the cassette gear box, obviously with the same layout of bolt holes positioning because that's where the frame went. The same moving parts, and the same gearbox, and these engines had only run for an hour on the dyno at Roelof's and unbelievably they worked. And they worked with the four-valve cylinder head and my crankcase in and they worked from the beginning. We had some minor teething troubles, we had no problems that day, we ran them at Estoril, raced them at Estoril a couple of weeks later and for the rest of the season.
And then the following year, 2004 we ran the whole with not a single DNF due to a mechanical failure. OK, we were at the back, but there weren't any of the factory teams that managed that, and we started racing through 2004/2005. And all along we built this thing as a stop gap, as Carmelo said, :Just be there for 2003 because we'll get the Japanese to make more motorbikes.: Well they never did, the Japanese made less motorbikes, not more, so we ran through 2003/2004/2005 with our own bikes but then just ran out of money. There was a deal with Blata who were suppose to be doing the V6 but they just never made it.
MM: Did they actually ever make the engine, or did you never see an engine?
PC: They ended up with a lump which represented 90% of one motorcycle, but the engine never ran even on a dyno. And now we have a court action against them. We're still waiting to get to court. They agreed to build a motorcycle and they didn't.
MM: Everyone was surprised about the Blata deal...
PC: Well the point was what we did with the WCM was not brain surgery, we did something which was relatively simple. Coen and Roelofs working toegether took the best of the cylinder head design and off the top of my head I forget whether they used all Kawaski valves or whether they were some Kawasaki valves, some others. Anyway it was just a very logical cylinder head design, and camshaft design and everything, and the very fact that from day one it worked and never blew up meant that it was a very straightforward thing. And then through the development of the engine we got some great partnerships going with like Wiseco to make the pistons and all that sort of thing. Then Coen came up with this 6 cylinder design, and again that wasn't brain surgery either, you know, he said “look OK I think this 600 cylinder head in that design is a good one, if we make 6 of them we end up with a V6.:
MM: So again there was the question of whether or not it was a prototype or not because you were basing it on production parts?
PC: Well no, because every casting was prototype and they changed the regulations then, they'd eased the regulations, so it was nothing to do with what it was based on or anything, and anyway, it was a six. But it was a similar thing and it was still based on existing technology. Although it was a 6, we weren't trying to re-invent the wheel, it was a straightforward design.
MM: You were taking things that you already knew worked, and just rearranging them.
PC: Right, right, and Coen did this very well. So we basically presented the basic design to Blata, and we said let's run with this. Wiseco will produce the pistons for you, so-and-so will do the rods, the crankshaft, we had all these relationships. Because we don't want to be a manufacturer, we're a racing team, it stretches us too much to try and do that, so you take these parts and fit them together.
And that was the deal we did with them, but the sad thing was that Blata rather than take it and run with it in the manner that we suggested decided that he knew better and that he would make everything. His idea was he was only going to stop short of making the tires himself. You know, because he knew better and he wanted to own the technology. Well, fine, but the trouble was he couldn't do it and particularly in the time frame, it was completely impossible. And no matter how we much we tried to impress upon him the ludicrousness of what he was trying to do he insisted this was the way he was going to do it.
MM: So he basically ruined the project through delusions of grandeur?
PC: Right. He was totally over-estimating his own ability or under-estimating the task at hand. So it did seem from the outside what were we doing entrusting a V6 to a pocket bike manufacturer, but if the role he had assumed would have been Project Manager and used all the parts that we had it would have been a very achievable thing.
MM: Basically, once the V6 didn't turn up, because, were Blata funding the project as well?
PC: Yes, they were. But again, with these partners. We had Wiseco who would have produced as many pistons as we wanted for nothing, for free, and other people were doing stuff for special prices. I mean it was a very achievable way to go racing, and an achievable way to go racing in the long term as well. And again the idea of the V6 was, we knew already that the 990 rules only had a two year life, but the idea was that the V6 was such an imagination catcher that everybody was going to notice us. If you turn up with another four, well that's not very different, but if you turn up with a V6, well that was something new.
So we would have raced that for two years and in that time then decided ok what is the serious engine that we're going to make as an 800. Because we knew that whatever we produced as a 990 we weren't really going to win with, but the V6 would get some publicity and put the Blata name on the map, hopefully attracted some sponsorship and then build something else as an 800.
MM: It's an interesting approach, do you still think it could be done today? Do you think you could build an 800 using just partners if you've built up the relationships?
PC: It would be a lot more difficult today. I think the thing was we started this whole project at the beginning of the four stroke era, and if we'd carried those partnerships and developed it... But things have moved on, of course, all the electronics and things which we didn't have, but hopefully partnerships we could have made. But you know we started in 2003, if we'd have kept the momentum going in 2004/5, but we're now looking towards 2010 aren't we? Things have moved on in 5 years, and to catch that up would not be easy. I'm not saying it would be impossible but it would not be easy.
MM: So getting a new manufacturer into the series would be extremely difficult?
PC: Well its extremely expensive, you either have partnerships or a big chequebook don't you. And of course that was really in a way what Ilmor tried. I'm not saying that was the way the way they did it, they probably did have partnerships, but you know when Ilmor came in, they spent a lot of money, didn't they?
MM: The people at Ilmor told me that they spent a lot of money, but they were surprised they didn't get any sponsors.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our marathon Peter Clifford interview.